Thursday, 29 November 2007

concerts by candlelight

For the past few years Rome has hosted a Baroque festival each year, and since 2007 is the tricentennial of Handel rocking up in Rome in order to hang out with some Italian musicians this year it is themed around his time here and his links to Italian composers, chiefly the Scarlattis père et fils.

The idea is that concert programmes are each created around a certain theme, and performed by small specialist ensembles on period instruments each in a Baroque Church or Palazzo. For bonus atmospheric whatnot, the concerts are held by candlelight. The desire to use the word Handellight in the title of this post was almost overwhelming. But I desisted, thus sparing you the .... oh damn.

Anyway last night the theme was "Handel and his Italian Maestros" and the programme illustrated the italianizzazione of his work which derived from the direct influence of A. Scarlatti and of Corelli on the German composer. It was very cleverly done, though more extensive programme notes might have helped. The concert was for harpsichord, (transverse) flute and cello, with three Italian baroque specialists, in the Basilica di San Agostino.

Both concert and church were very beautiful, the one full of complex contrapuntal harmonies and clever echoing, the other of well coloured frescos, Guercinos and handsome altarpieces. It reminded me what fun it is to play chamber music, and made me think I ought to dig out the viola again one day. It also reminded me just how much I have forgotten about music: I used to know but really a lot, as my Italian housemate persists in saying in English, and now I seem to remember very little of it.

It was free, which was nice, and I mean to go to the last of the series on Saturday night, which is in the Church of Sant' Agnese in Agone, in Piazza Navona. The link between the building at the music is actually rather good, as you look around you it is quite challenging and intriguing trying to map the visual and the aural developments onto one another. And of course it occurred to me on Wednesday that my brother's dear friend Alexander Pope was also contemporaneous to this music and this art. It is not, in the eternal cry of the historian seeking to evade a tricky question, my period, and so I don't pretend to know as much about it as I would like. But it was great to spend some time thinking about something not to do with war or fascism or football, and even better to remind myself how great live music always is.


Paul de Man said...

Oh I'm so glad that you enjoyed this. I would very much like to co-opt the term Handellight as a word to describe the Enlightenment-specific cleanliness of those contrapuntal harmonies.

Other places I would like to use the word Handellight are, for example, to describe the poesis of Alexander Pope, or the architecture of Thomas Jefferson.

This mapping of the visual and aural - and the verbal - is not anachronistic, either. There're some great books on Handel/Pope, including a fantastic article by my supervisor. (And of course the Messiah was premiered (though that *is* an anachronistic concept) at Swift's church in Dublin.)

I think that often these kind of synaesthetic approaches to periodisation are rather forced, but the period 1700-50 lends itself to this spectacularly well. The stylistic consonances are enough to make you curse the Romantics, who are like jocks shouting down someone they don't understand. All this crap about a sublime. Give me a heroic couplet and a countersubject that is a neat inversion of the subject any day.

In sum, woop for you, Handel, Pope, and free evenings.

(Paul de Man would actually be ashamed to see his name attached to this. Shh! Don't tell!)

Paul de Man said...

oo oo oo please may I just say cf. the Marianne Moore poem 'Light is Speech'? (, p.97)

Richard said...

Is San Agostino the church with a Caravaggio or two down a very narrow alley a couple of hundred metres north of the Pantheon?

That doesn't really narrow it down much, does it?

Still, sounds like a great venue for Handelight.